By Remko Molenaar (Proxzor)
This last year I’ve had the famous MMO craving for a while. Mainly because this last year, not many MMORPGs had been released, and only a few of them went into a playable beta. Most of these MMORPGs that were released had serious issues on one front or another, while my circle of friends continue to have higher expectations of what an MMORPG needs to keep us interested. Since I have less time to play as well, I only try to focus on the games I can play solo reasonably well or that don’t focus as much on group content. This last year unfortunately was a bit shallow compared to the rest, and might have been a complete wash had Legion not given me a few months of that sweet MMORPG craving hit.
When the drug wears out, you notice that the game is the same as in the past, except with a bunch of new features that in the end, doesn’t look as promising as it sounds. And it brings you back to the hunt…
Everyone has this feeling, and just like drug addicts we get a new hit when a new MMORPG comes around that promises all these beloved features that make it sound like the messiah of MMOs is just around the corner with the next release, while in fact there’s as many things wrong with it as the next. Perhaps it’s wrong to say we’re just like drug addicts; maybe wine connoisseurs, slowly giving pleasure to our taste buds while acquiring our own unique taste style in the process. But just like experienced wine connoisseurs, once we’ve had the pricey stuff, it’s hard to go back to the cheap stuff. The cheap stuff all blends together, feels bland, and lacks the pop it once did. This is basically what MMORPGs have felt like for the past few years, with 2016 being the exclamation mark on a rough decade of the industry going downhill as many long anticipated titles’ localized editions fell far short of expectations was even more noticeable than the one before.
This past year I’ve also heard a lot of people, even colleagues in the industry, say that the MMORPG genre is dying. And I’m not quite sure I agree with this. While I do agree that the bigger publishers have stopped working on MMORPGs, I do think that crowdfunding has taken its place in one shape or form. Right now there isn’t any one AAA title stealing the spotlight. As such gaming press doesn’t know who to shower hype on and gamers feel loss on what to follow as the next big thing. Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online really were the last AAA titles that were worked on specifically with a western market in mind. But what happened in-between this time? Well, crowdfunding got bigger, and even though the majority of these crowdfunded games never get to the required budget for a triple A game, they do have something else to make up for it.
StarCitizen is the prime example of a successful crowdfunded title. But for the sake of this argument let’s not look at the game directly, but more from a different standpoint. When you are a programmer, one that has their heart set on programming a game you yourself would play, then obviously you are going to try and get hired by one of those big publishers or development studios that have the funding and resources to make such a game a reality. You get hired to work on a MMORPG, but in the meanwhile the publisher keeps breathing down your neck because he wants to see results, and preferably today instead of tomorrow, while the deadline was set next week. You rush things, and it isn’t as polished as it could be. Even though the studio has the budget to keep working on it for an extra year, any new game lately is so rushed it feels like they’re several years off actual release. This isn’t even exclusively an MMORPG problem these days, as quality control throughout the gaming industry seems to be nosediving.
But Crowdfunding is different. The pressure of the publisher is removed from the picture. There isn’t anyone breathing down your neck, except the masses on the Internet that gave you money, but you don’t know them personally. And this is where passion gets made, and you can see this back in the work of the developers. And we can already see this back with the ideas and concepts being crowdfunded for future games. When you actually start up your own project, you can then search for people with the same mindset, and the more talented inspired people you unite, the greater the product you can produce with the much lower funds offered from indie development. And if the game takes longer than the planned date? Well who’s stopping you from taking longer? The one guy that has paid you a couple hundred through the Internet, buying into an idea but not yet the product? He is obviously not coming down on your doorstep to demand the product. He’s crossing his fingers that it’s going to come through one day at all. Talent is important; you can be an extremely good game designer, or programmer, but if you lack the will to try and focus more on rushing the product, rather than polishing it, obviously you’re going to get a product that just isn’t it. And we know how fast players can switch around games when they don’t like something. The first hit has to be right, and as long as you’ve got that going, players will stick around.
This year will be different. We will finally see most of the initial round of crowdfunding games that try to take the same route as a triple A game come to blossom. Personally I am keeping an eye on Crowfall, Camelot Unchained, Pantheon and who knows, we might even get a StarCitizen beta this year. And they are just a drop in the bucket – there are many more games that have an even lesser budget than that, but are still looking extremely promising. Kickstarter games, and crowdfunding games in general have shifted the industry forward, and I predict that 2017 will be the year to prove that. People are fed up with these halve done $60 products with 6 DLCs due 4 months after release. We need something that can get rid of this crave once and for all. Heh, who are we kidding, the perfect product doesn’t exist and will forever be longed for. But we can sure hope, right?
Otherwise the next generation will look back on the classic MMORPGs like… League of Angels.